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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 369


Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (19:30): A family man drives across the wide plains of country Australia. There is not a cloud in the sky. The highway is a single lane each way, but the surface is smooth and the shoulders are wide. He is enjoying the comfort of his well-serviced and well-appointed family car. He is fresh and he is alert.

There is a car up ahead, going at around 100 kilometres an hour. It appears to be the only other car on the road for kilometres. He is gradually reeling in the smaller car, and then he accelerates to overtake. The manoeuvre is completed in seconds, and he settles back into the rest of his journey. That is where the story should end, but it does not. In his rear view mirror there is a highway patrol car. He pulls over. He knows what will happen; it has happened before.

Fast forward a couple of hours: the man arrives home. How the conversation progresses between husband and wife is none of our business. But the upshot is that this family now has to work out how to get the kids to school, both parents to work and the shopping done over the next three months without the family car. To top it off, they also have to figure out how to pay the hefty fine.

This is a true story from a despairing constituent who called my office. It is strikingly similar to a number of other stories from everyday folk across the country who have called me. This is clearly not a story of our hard-earned tax dollars being put to good use, of public servants serving the public or of a police force gaining trust and cooperation from the community of which they are a part. It is a human tragedy, and it should not happen. Australia is obsessed with speed and speed limits.

Many other countries are not. Speed limits in those countries reflect community views on the right balance between the convenience of travel times and safety. In Australia they reflect the views of engineers, who think they know what is good for the community and who believe that they know how to strike the right balance. And yet the road toll is falling as much in other developed countries as it is here, due largely to improvements in the quality of roads and cars and the cultural change against drink driving.

The everyday people who call my office are not criminals. They are not reckless with their lives, the lives of their families or the lives of their fellow Australians. They would gladly comply with speed limits that were set according to the 85th percentile rule. Under this rule, we would measure the speed of drivers on each road with the speed limit removed, and then impose a speed limit that would cast 85 per cent of those drivers as law abiding, and only 15 per cent as speeders. As the great majority of drivers admit to exceeding the current speed limits regularly, if we adopted the 85th percentile rule we would get higher speed limits.

If speed limits reflected community views in this way, everyday Australians would want the speed limits to be enforced. And they would see police as being on their side, rather than as people to fear and loathe. Politicians and bureaucrats should get over their obsession with speed limits. They should stop treating motorists like naughty children. They should stop pretending that the setting of speed limits is an engineering issue. And they should bring the laws on speeding into line with community values.